US hit by 20 billion-dollar climate disasters in one year

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Sonoma County, California, USA
Wildfires in Sonoma County, California. Twenty climate disasters in the US cost more than a billion dollars each last year.

Twenty separate climate disasters in the US - from deadly hurricanes to blistering heat waves - cost more than a billion dollars each last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

It was the second year in a row with more than 20 billion-dollar climate events, the agency reported, with a cost of $145 billion in 2021.

Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists told CNN: "2021 was, in essence, watching the climate projections of the past come true.

“The fingerprints of climate change were all over many of the billion-dollar events that hit the US this year."

Last year was the third costliest extreme weather year on record, the Guardian reported, with tropical storms - Elsa, Fred, Isa and Nicholas - responsible for around half the financial damage.

The problem has been made worse by the fact that building regulations have not kept pace with climate change, says Adam Smith, an applied climatologist at NOAA.

LOUISVILLE, CO - JANUARY 02: Allison Price digs through the debris at the parents' house of her boyfriend in a neighborhood decimated by the Marshall Fire on January 2, 2022 in Louisville, Colorado. Officials reported that 991 homes were destroyed, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
A person digs through wreckage in Colorado. (Getty)

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Smith said, “Much of the growth has taken place in vulnerable areas like coasts, river floodplains and the wild land urban interface.

“Vulnerability is especially high where building codes are insufficient for reducing damage from extreme events.”

This year saw extreme weather events becoming normal across the world, with a 90-fold increase in monthly heat extremes compared to 1951-1980.

On average, about nine percent of all land area is affected by so-called three-sigma heat events (three standard deviations hotter than average), the research found.

Record daily rainfall events have also increased due to climate change, with one in four rainfall records in the past decade attributed to climate change.

LOUISVILLE, CO - JANUARY 02: An American flag sits on a burned truck in a neighborhood decimated by the Marshall Fire on January 2, 2022 in Louisville, Colorado. Officials reported that 991 homes were destroyed, making it the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
Climate events cost more than $20bn last year. (Getty)

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Worryingly, rainfall events are increasing in already-wet areas, while dry areas are becoming ever more arid, the researchers say.

Lead author Alexander Robinson from Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany said, "For extreme extremes, what we call 4-sigma-events that have been virtually absent before, we even see a roughly 1000-fold increase compared to the reference period. They affected about 3% of global land area in 2011-20 in any month.

"This confirms previous findings, yet with ever-increasing numbers.

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“We are seeing extremes now which are virtually impossible without the influence of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels."

The seemingly small amount of warming in the past ten years, just 0.25°C, has pushed up climate extremes substantially.

Co-author Stefan Rahmstorf, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says, "These data show that extremes are now far outside the historical experience. Extreme heat and extreme rainfall are increasing disproportionally

"Our analysis confirms once again that for the impacts of global heating on us humans, every tenth of a degree matters."

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